Being named Year of the Cobra (and writing some bitchin’ tunes) means that with every new release, you have to see “20__ is totally the year of the cobra, bro!” as often as a boy named Sue got beat up. We here at Last Rites have more respect for you than that. Not much more, but enough. We figure you are probably a huge Juicehead (as at least one fan of Jucifer calls themselves, presumably) and love that there’s another married duo making an insanely loud and heavy racket out there on the road. Year of the Cobra haven’t gone full grindcore yet, but they just started in 2015, so there’s plenty of time to devolve. Until they do, Year of the Cobra should absolutely continue to mine the fertile depths of these fuzzy, doomy tales of triumph and pain.
Ash and Dust starts with some heavy but well-worn stoner metal riffage. It’s a wizard surfing on an eagle made of gemstones, painted on the side of a van worthy of The A-Team (or Windhand’s touring wheels). You have seen this before, but dammit, it’s rad! Amy Tung Barrysmith’s bass flattens everything in its path, and sweetly sung lyrics and “oooo-woohs” give the song a little extra zazz. Jon Barrysmith leans back in the throne and keeps a steady simple beat, leaving the vocals and thundering bass to drive the song. Subtle layered vocals on “The Divine” add depth and complexity as Year of the Cobra unfurl the full range of their particular brand of doom.
“Demons” staggers to its feet and then swings atop a jaunty synth vamp. Amy provides soft, beaten-down vocals through a crackling microphone. The verses sway with a disjointed swagger. The closing line, “I-I will follow you…through the gates of hell” could rouse the Uruk-hai, and this type of dirge is where Year of the Cobra really shine. Ash and Dust rocks the hardest when it trudges along, highlighting massive grooves and Amy’s versatile vocals. It’s no backhanded compliment to say that Jon’s drums are restrained and fitting. There is plenty of force when needed, but also a great symbiosis with the shifting basslines. It’s clear their sound has been battle-hardened in the crucible of constant touring.
The battle narration of “Into the Fray” is another successful groove-fest with mammoth riffs that dig trenches across your ears. Without raising the volume, Amy commands an army. Year of the Cobra ply their trade with the thick riffs and impeccable tone that stoners love, but with a maturity that avoids the inclination to put a bong rip sample in the middle of a song.
The heavy threnodies continue with the very mellow “At the Edge,” where Amy walks a simple bassline beneath a soft verse that gives way to some relaxing “woo-oo-aaahhs.” Year of the Cobra exude a confident swagger throughout Ash and Dust that lays bare each piece for your inspection. Even at full distortion and volume, the riffs ring clearly and with exquisite fuzz, and the crisp but warm production allows vocals the float above and weave through the mix.
Ash and Dust closes with the octave hopping riff of “In Despair” picking cleanly under a supplicating prayer, softly sung in meditation that would make Om proud. It’s another beautiful, complementary arrow in Year of the Cobra’s quiver, and it’s the rare song that would still be strong if stretched out twice as long. But Amy has said her piece, and Jon finally joins to hammer out three distorted notes before the song fades into static at just over five and a half minutes.
One would be tempted to pigeonhole Year of the Cobra since comparisons tend to narrow with the lack of female voices in metal. The band’s simple instrumentation and fuzz worship could narrow it even more. They mostly avoid recent trends of ‘70s style occult doom from bands like Blood Ceremony or Witch Mountain, but they do channel a good amount of Windhand’s stoner metal vibe. Year of the Cobra also rock the mega-fuzz of Acid King and Big Business, with just a touch of Kyuss. Aside from the aforementioned Jucifer, it’s Welsh band Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and Jessica Ball’s angelic vocals over sludgy riffs that mirror Year of the Cobra the best. This is not meant to be reductive, as Ash and Dust absolutely stands on its own. But there are some fantastic bands in the doom/stoner/classic heavy metal genres that benefit from the diverse and beautiful timbres of female vocals. Even an established band like Cult of Luna managed to find another gear with the addition of Julie Christmas on the phenomenal Mariner.
Ultimately, Ash and Dust succeeds through the genre-blending that Amy and Jon create with simple tools: heavy fuzzed out bass, steady tasteful drums, and those sweet, sweet vocals. The ingredients are nearly identical to debut album …In the Shadows Below, but they are more expertly wielded here, playing to Year of the Cobra’s strengths more often than not, and resulting in a damn fine album that should hit more than a few year-end lists. 2019 is indeed the year of the… [Ed Note: Fetusghost has been taken to a secret location for minimally invasive and hopefully permanent reprogramming.]